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Mob accosts NGO workers

Jorhat, Feb. 23: Kaziranga may have enough room for the magnificent tiger and the majestic rhino but not for a third species called humans who thrive on tourism.

So the two-legged species has been warning NGOs working on tiger census to leave the park and has been taking out rallies, demanding that Project Tiger be withdrawn to protect the one-horned rhino.

Yesterday, a mob, led by members of the Kaziranga Jeep Safari Association, accosted a group of NGO activists and warned them to leave the park immediately. They threatened to attack the activists if they tried to enter the park again. Some local organisations, led by the association, had issued the warning to NGOs involved in the tiger census at Kaziranga about a month back, too. A fortnight ago, they took out a jeep rally through a section of the park.

The association and organisations are against the implementation of Project Tiger at Kaziranga because they fear that it will hit the flourishing tourism industry, given the restrictions on the flow of tourists to the core area of the park once Project Tiger is implemented completely.

WWF and Aaranyak, a local NGO, have been working on tiger census at the park. The team that was accosted yesterday included two WWF members and two scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India. Jayanta Pathak, a member of Aaranyak, said the group was returning from Kaziranga when a mob accosted them at Kohora. “The mob was in an aggressive mood and not ready to listen to us. They warned us to shelve our projects and leave.”

Aaranyak had recently appealed to the authorities at Kaziranga not to impose a total ban on tourist movement in areas marked as tourism zones, so as not to dent livelihood avenues.

Punen Gogoi, the president of Jeep Safari Association, said despite repeated warnings, NGOs involved in tiger census at Kaziranga were continuing with their work. “We don’t want any tiger project at Kaziranga. Project Tiger will only bring doom to the park, which is famous for its one-horned rhinos.” He said the NGOs working in Kaziranga, especially WWF and Aaranyak, had not taken local people into confidence, resulting in bad blood.

Jimmy Bora of the WWF, who was present during yesterday’s incident, said the park’s authority had asked the NGO to work at Kaziranga and it was not working there on its own. “We have no right to hold any discussion with the local people. It is the Kaziranga authorities who should sort out these problems. If the authorities ask us to leave, we will leave immediately,” he said.

He said incidents like yesterday’s had a demoralising effect on NGOs working for the development of Kaziranga.

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